Home > Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(9)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)(9)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Not a trace, not even a sound of footsteps.

Celaena didn’t go into the library. Oh, no. She just walked quickly back to her rooms with as much dignity as she could muster. Though she kept telling herself that she’d imagined it all, that it was some hallucination from too many hours awake, Celaena couldn’t stop hearing that cursed word again and again.

Plans.

Chapter 6

The person outside the library probably had nothing to do with the king, Celaena told herself as she walked—still not sprinting—down the hall to her room. There were plenty of strange people in a castle this large, and even though she rarely saw another soul in the library, perhaps some people just … wished to go to the library alone. And unidentified. In a court where reading was so out of fashion, perhaps it was merely some courtier trying to hide a passionate love of books from his or her sneering friends.

Some animalistic, eerie courtier. Who had caused her amulet to glow.

Celaena entered her bedroom just as the lunar eclipse was beginning, and groaned. “Of course there’s an eclipse,” she grumbled, turning from the balcony doors and approaching the tapestry along the wall.

And even though she didn’t want to, even though she’d hoped to never see Elena again … she needed answers.

Maybe the dead queen would laugh at her and tell her it was nothing. Gods above, she hoped Elena would say that. Because if she didn’t …

Celaena shook her head and glanced at Fleetfoot. “Care to join me?” The dog, as if sensing what she was about to do, made a good show of turning circles on the bed and curling up with a huff. “I thought so.”

In a matter of moments, Celaena shoved the large chest of drawers from its spot in front of the tapestry that hid the secret door, grabbed a candle, and began walking down, down, down the forgotten stairs to the landing far below.

The three stone archways greeted her. The one on the far left led to a passage that allowed for spying on the Great Hall. The one in the center led to the sewers and the concealed exit that might someday save her life. And the one on the right … that one led down to the ancient queen’s forgotten tomb.

As she walked to the tomb, she didn’t dare look at the landing where she’d discovered Cain summoning the ridderak from another world, even though the debris of the door the creature had shattered still littered the stairs. There were gouges in the stone wall where the ridderak had come crashing through, chasing her down to the tomb, until she’d just barely reached Damaris, sword of the long-dead King Gavin, in time to slay the monster.

Celaena glanced at her hand, where a ring of white scars punctured her palm and encircled her thumb. If Nehemia hadn’t found her that night, the poison from the ridderak’s bite would have killed her.

At last, she reached the door at the bottom of the spiral staircase and found herself staring at the skull-shaped bronze knocker in its center.

Perhaps this hadn’t been a good idea. Perhaps the answers weren’t worth it.

She should go back upstairs. Come to think of it, this could only be bad.

Elena had seemed satisfied that Celaena had obeyed her command to become the King’s Champion, but if she showed up, then it would seem like she was willing to do another one of Elena’s tasks. And the Wyrd knew that she had enough on her hands right now.

Even if that—that thing in the hall just now hadn’t seemed friendly.

The skull knocker seemed to smile at her, its hollow eyes boring into hers.

Gods above, she should just leave.

But her fingers were somehow reaching for the door handle, as if an invisible hand were guiding her—

“Aren’t you going to knock?”

Celaena leapt back, a dagger already in her hand and angled to spill blood as she pressed herself into the wall. It was impossible—she had to have imagined it.

The skill knocker had spoken. Its mouth had moved up and down.

Yes, this was certainly, absolutely, undeniably impossible. Far more unlikely and incomprehensible than anything Elena had ever said or done.

Staring at her with gleaming metal eyes, the bronze skull clicked its tongue. It had a tongue.

Maybe she’d slipped on the stairs and smacked her head into the stones. That would make more sense than this. An endless, filthy stream of curses began flowing through her head, each more vulgar than the next, as she gaped at the knocker.

“Oh, don’t be so pathetic,” the skull huffed, its eyes narrowing. “I’m attached to this door. I cannot harm you.”

“But you’re”—she swallowed hard—“magic.”

It was impossible—it should be impossible. Magic was gone, vanished from the land ten years ago, before it had even been outlawed by the king.

“Everything in this world is magic. Thank you ever so kindly for stating the obvious.”

She calmed her reeling mind long enough to say, “But magic doesn’t work anymore.”

“New magic doesn’t. But the king cannot erase old spells made with older powers—like the Wyrdmarks. Those ancient spells still hold; especially ones that imbue life.”

“You’re … alive?”

The knocker chuckled. “Alive? I’m made of bronze. I do not breathe, nor do I eat or drink. So, no, I am not alive. Nor am I dead, for that matter. I simply exist.”

She stared at the small knocker. It was no larger than her fist.

“You should apologize,” it said. “You have no idea how loud and tiresome you’ve been these past few months, with all your running down here and slaying foul beasties. I kept quiet until I thought you’d witnessed enough strange things that you could accept my existence. But apparently, I am to be disappointed.”

Hands trembling, she sheathed her dagger and set down her candle. “I’m so glad you finally found me worth speaking to.”

The bronze skull closed its eyes. The skull had eyelids. How had she not noticed it before? “Why should I speak to someone who doesn’t have the courtesy to greet me, or even to knock?”

Celaena took a calming breath and looked at the door. The stones of the threshold still bore gouges from where the ridderak had passed through. “Is she in there?”

“Is who in there?” the skull said coyly.

“Elena—the queen.”

“Of course she is. She’s been in there for a thousand years.” The skull’s eyes seemed to glow.

“Don’t mock me, or I’ll peel you off this door and melt you down.”

“Not even the strongest man in the world could peel me from this door. King Brannon himself put me here to watch over her tomb.”

“You’re that old?”

The skull huffed. “How insensitive of you to insult me about my age.”

Celaena crossed her arms. Nonsense—magic always led to nonsense like this. “What’s your name?”

“What is your name?”

“Celaena Sardothien,” she ground out.

The skull barked a laugh. “Oh, that is too funny! The funniest thing I’ve heard in centuries!”

“Be quiet.”

“My name is Mort, if you must know.”

She picked up the candle. “Can I expect all of our encounters to be this pleasant?” She reached for the door handle.

“Aren’t you even going to knock, after all that? You truly have no manners.”

She used all of her self-control to avoid banging on his little face as she made three unnecessarily loud knocks on the wooden door.

Mort smirked as the door silently swung open. “Celaena Sardothien,” he said to himself, and began laughing again. Celaena hissed in his direction and kicked the door shut.

The tomb was dim with foggy light, and Celaena approached the grate through which it poured, carried down from the surface by a silver-coated shaft. It was normally brighter in here, but the eclipse made the tomb increasingly murky.

She paused not too far from the threshold, set the candle on the floor, and found herself staring at—nothing.

Elena wasn’t there.

“Hello?”

Mort chuckled from the other side of the door.

Celaena rolled her eyes and yanked the door back open. Of course Elena wouldn’t actually be here when she had an important question. Of course she’d only have something like Mort to talk to. Of course, of course, of course.

   
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